Cracking the Cholesterol Code
If you’re like most people, you know that high cholesterol is a bad thing, but did you also know there is a such thing as good cholesterol and you don’t want it to drop too low? The human body is a complex organism. That’s why we make education an important component of the Live Well Polk! initiative. With that in mind, let’s try to crack the cholesterol code.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance produced by the liver and found naturally in the body. The body uses cholesterol to make vitamin D and hormones, and to form new cells. The other source of cholesterol in your body is from foods you eat, primarily animal products such as egg yolks, dairy, meat and seafood.
When your body has too much cholesterol, it can cause plaque buildup in the arteries. This can lead to heart disease, stroke and other serious illnesses. Too much cholesterol can be caused by eating unhealthy foods, lack of exercise or simply genetics.
Here are six facts that can assist in the management of cholesterol:
1. Everyone 20 years of age or older should know their cholesterol numbers. A cholesterol blood test (called a lipoprotein profile) should be performed and explained by your family doctor every four to six years, according to the American Heart Associa-tion. Those with elevated risk should be test more frequently.
2. High cholesterol creates a higher risk for heart disease and stroke, the No. 1 and No. 4 killers in the United States. Too much cholesterol builds up in the arteries, which forms plaque. Plaque can clog artery walls, making it more difficult for blood to flow.
3. Children can have high cholesterol. The American Academy of Pediatrics recom-mends a cholesterol screening for all kids between ages 9 and 11. and selective screening should be done even earlier – beginning at age 2 – for children with a high risk of having cholesterol issues, including kids with obesity, a family history of heart attacks and a family history of high cholesterol.
4. Women’s cholesterol levels fluctuate. During pregnancy, cholesterol levels rise, which is thought to help babies’ brains develop. and cholesterol-rich breast milk is thought to be heartprotective for babies as they age. Post-pregnancy, cholesterol levels should return to normal. But after menopause, women’s LDL cholesterol levels go up, while protective HDL levels decline, notes the Cleveland Clinic. By age 75, women tend to have higher cholesterol levels than men.
5. Cholesterol is measured using these components:
Total cholesterol – This number is achieved by measuring HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
LDL cholesterol – This “bad” cholesterol blocks your arteries, causing heart dis-ease. Low levels of LDL are best.
HDL cholesterol – This “good” cholesterol helps remove LDL cholesterol, pro-tecting against heart disease. High levels of HDL are good.
Triglycerides – This type of fat in the blood helps the body make energy. If levels are too high, it can cause heart disease.
6. There’s a trick to remembering which type of cholesterol is good and which is bad:
HDL is the healthy “good” cholesterol and should be high. Remember, H for High.
LDL is the “bad” cholesterol and should be low. Remember, L for Low.
Research has shown that a good way to understand your risk for high cholesterol is measure four key numbers: body mass index, blood pressure, resting blood sugar and total cholesterol.
Your primary health care provider can perform these tests so that you know these numbers and do more than just live. You can live well.
Tifani Kinard is the Hospital Administrator and Chief Nursing Officer of Floyd Polk Medical Center.